Review: Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 Daypack

Daypack
Mystery Ranch Coulee 30
$189, 29L/1,770 c.i., 2 lbs. 9 oz./1.2kg (men’s S/M)
Sizes: men’s S/M and L/XL, women’s XS/X and M/L
backcountry.com

Let’s face it, we sometimes tend to act like unreasonable relationship partners in our expectations for our gear, including hiking daypacks: We want everything to be perfect all the time. And with gear, we can obsess a bit over weight. But as I discovered carrying the Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 on hikes from the trails of southern Idaho and Utah’s Wasatch to the Canadian Rockies, its reasonable weight is more than validated by a design, comfort, capacity, and durability that make it one of today’s best daypacks.

Among the biggest demands I placed on the Coulee 30, three days in particular stand out: I carried it with about 20 pounds/9 kilos inside, including extra layers, lunch for two, and a DSLR camera with two lenses, dayhiking the Cory Pass-Edith Pass loop in Canada’s Banff National Park, a nine-mile/14.5-kilometer loop with a steep 3,400 feet/1,036 meters of uphill and downhill. On another day, I carried it with about 30 pounds/13.6 kilos inside, including a rack of rock-climbing gear and my harness, shoes, and helmet—all of which fit inside the pack—and starting out with several bars and over two liters of water for about six miles/nearly 10 kilometers of hiking on and off-trail around Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve. But my biggest day with the Coulee 30 was an 18-mile, 7,300-foot, 13-hour, four-summit, partly off-trail dayhike with my 23-year-old son in Utah’s Wasatch Range in early October, carrying up to three liters of water, food for a big day, and layers for a big range of temps and finishing well after dark.


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At 2 lbs. 9 oz./1.2kg (for the men’s S/M), the Coulee 30 may not draw covetous gazes from dayhikers and mountain runners looking for the lightest, most streamlined daypack. But my point is, before you get too hung up on its weight, consider instead the reasons for it: a rare combination of superior access, capacity, durability, and comfort with a heavier load than most daypacks can handle. In that light, weighing just over 2.5 pounds looks quite moderate.

Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 harness.
Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 harness.

Most distinctively, the Coulee’s Y-shaped, three-zipper access quickly opens the main compartment from the top and front—you can open the interior completely or only as much as needed. That allows you to immediately grab virtually anything, anywhere inside it, virtually never digging around or pulling out other stuff and repacking it, as is common with many daypacks. That alone truly improves your experience with this pack.

I honestly cannot think of a better access system for packs that I’ve seen in more than 25 years of testing hiking and backpacking gear (and the Coulee 30 is the third pack in this series I’ve reviewed). Little wonder that Mystery Ranch offers the three-zipper design in four capacity sizes, including the Coulee 20, Coulee 40, and Coulee 50 (which I consider one of today’s best backpacking packs).

I chose the Coulee 30 thinking that, since I’m accepting a little extra pack weight, I might as well get a large-capacity daypack. Still, the fact that I used it as a crag pack for rock climbing (my partner had the rope plus his personal gear) speaks to how spacious it seems for 30 liters/1,770 cubic inches. Again, I would say that also spotlights another advantage of the three-zipper design: It helps you to load the pack very efficiently, using every cubic inch of space.

The Coulee 30 will carry at least 25 pounds/11.3kg comfortably—and as mentioned above, I found it comfortable hiking with about 30 pounds inside it in Idaho’s City of Rocks—thanks to the sturdyand supportive HDPE framesheet and more padding in the shoulder straps, removable waist belt, and lumbar than you’ll find in most hiking daypacks, and certainly than in lighter models.

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The Mystery Ranch Coulee 30.
The Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 in Banff National Park.

Less obvious but also extremely unique among daypacks: The Coulee 30 and 20 both come in two adjustable sizes for both men and women. (The Coulee 40 and 50 both come in four adjustable sizes for men and women.) Rarely are daypacks adjustable for torso length and available in multiple sizes for men and women. A superior fit and comfort provide yet more validation for a modest weight penalty (if you can even still call that a “penalty.”)

The adjustable Future Yoke fits torsos within a huge five- to seven-inch/13- to 18-centimeter range (varying with pack size). Adjust it by first pulling up on the yoke separator strap (behind the shoulders) and removing the framesheet, using it to separate the substantial hook-and-loop patch behind the shoulder straps; that allows you to slide the yoke panel up or down until the seam between the shoulder strap and the yoke body aligns with the top of your shoulder blades. Then it’s easy (while the pack is empty) to reinsert the framesheet—and necessary because it functions as the pack’s upper frame. With my torso (18 inches) and waist (30 inches) falling nearly in the middle of the men’s S/M fit range, I easily adjusted it to achieve a good fit.

The Coulee packs are built for hard use, with 100 percent recycled, tough, 210-denier Regen Robic dobby fabric and a double-layer bottom. These packs are among the most durable, tear- and abrasion-resistant daypacks you’ll find.

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Besides the excellent main compartment access, seven external pockets provide as much space and as many ways of grabbing stuff without having to open the pack (as easy as that is) as any hiker could need. Those include:

  • Two side-by-side front drop pockets with stretch-woven side panels, protected by the tough Regen Robic fabric facing outward.
  • Two side stretch-woven pockets that each hold a liter bottle.
  • A zippered lid pocket with adequate space for all the little things.
  • And two zippered waist belt pockets that will fit two or three bars but not a smartphone.

Dual side compression straps help keep the load stable when the pack is not full and integrate with the front pockets to help compress and contain their contents. Plus, their quick-release buckles mate with the compression strap buckles on the opposite side, for attaching large gear to the outside of the pack. The pack also has two adjustable tool attachments.

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Mystery Ranch Coulee 30

Fit
Comfort/Support
Access
Weight
Features
Durability

The Verdict

With superior comfort, access, and durability, large capacity, multiple features, and great versatility, the Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 is one of today’s very best daypacks—and it’s only about a half-pound/227 grams heavier than some of its best competitors.

4.8

BUY IT NOW

You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 at backcountry.com or mysteryranch.com, a women’s Mystery Ranch Coulee 30 at backcountry.com or mysteryranch.com, or any other pack in the Coulee series at backcountry.com or mysteryranch.com.

See “The 10 Best Hiking Daypacks,” “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpack” (which includes daypacks), and all reviews of hiking gear at The Big Outside.

You may also be interested in my “8 Pro Tips for Preventing Blisters When Hiking,” my picks for “The Best Trekking Poles,” and my story “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be,” which you can read in its entirety with a paid subscription to The Big Outside or click here to purchase separately.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See the Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all reviews and expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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